Mark D Stephens: Adventurer, writer, photographer, ambassador of the sonoran desert
Built for Environmentally-Friendly Adventure:
My 2002 Jeep TJ

Jeep TJ wrangler, OME suspension, ARB snorkel, Wilderness bumper swingout, BFG mud tires 31

Special thanks to these fantastic sponsors:

A to Z Fabrication for Jeep bumpers off road armor rocker guards
JPFreek Magazine
JpFreek Magazine

Basic Specifications for my Jeep wrangler X
Make: Jeep
Year: 2002 (TJ)
Model: Wrangler X
Engine: 4.0L I-6
Front Axle: Dana 30, 3.07
Rear Axle: Dana 35c, 3.07
Suspension, Front: Old Man Emu 2.5" OME932 coils, N66 shocks
Suspension, Rear: Old Man Emu 2.5" OME941 coils, N67 shocks
Tires: BF Goodrich Mud Terrain, 31"x10.5"


  • A to Z Fabrication rocker guards; snowpeep style
  • Garvin Industries Wilderness Rear bumper with tire swing out
  • Warn Rockcrawler front bumper
  • ARB Safari Snorkel
Photos: Protection
Jeep TJ rock sliders, A to Z Fabrication Jeep TJ Warn rockcrawler front bumper
Garvin Wilderness rear bumper swingout Jeep TJ wrangler Jeep TJ snorkel by ARB


  • Olympic Mountaineer rack
  • OEM center console
  • Garvin Industries swing away trail rack
  • Olympic 4x4 Sports Rack (901) Roof Rack
Photos: Organization
Jeep TJ Olympic Mountaineer rack and Garvin Wilderness Bumper Swingout Jeep TJ Olympic Mountaineer rack and Garvin Wilderness Bumper Swingout
Jeep TJ mountain bikes on a roof rack Olympic 901 Sports Rack Jeep Roof Rack Olympic Sports rack 901


  • Hi-Lift Jack
  • Tow straps
  • Chump friends
  • A to Z Fabrication winch mount
Photos: Recovery
My buddy Russ... He has the winch, and the Rubicon My high lift jack mounted on the bumper
Jeep recovery with a tow strap and chump friends doing all the hard work My buddy Andy, Chump Friend number two for Jeep recovery


  • CB radio
  • Yeasu FT-1500 2M 144 MHz
  • Garmin GPSMap 76S with automobile antenna mount and RAM Mount
Photos: Communication
HAM radio in the Jeep TJ wrangler GPS and cb radio in jeep tj wrangler


  • JKS Quicker Anti-Sway Bar disconnects
  • Old Man Emu Steering Stabilizer
  • Bestop Strapless bikini top
  • Adventure Trailers fuel and water can holders

What i think of this thing
According to Ulysses Everett McGill in the phenomenally funny movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou?:

“It’s a fool who looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart”

That makes me feel much better about writing my thoughts and impressions on the Jeep Wrangler for adventure use. A Jeep, quite frankly, is just about at the pinnacle of Cool Factor in the vehicle world. Here's why:

  • The top comes off
  • The doors come off
  • Endless aftermarket support
  • Widespread hot-chick endorsement

You see a Jeep exhumes a little doo-dad called Super Cool. Confession: this is why I bought the Jeep. It is a fool who looks for logic...

While I've known for a long time that the Jeep is weak for cargo space, I recently decided that I bought the wrong Jeep. Back in my youth - yes the Summer of 2002 is my youth - I knew nothing of the differences between a Dana 35C axle and a Dana 44. Nor had I any clue at all what a slip yoke eliminator was. Now I wish I had one. And what was this funny "gear ratio" number, and why do I care?

For adventure, wilderness road exploration, and all manner of outdoor mischief the Jeep Wrangler to buy - if you absolutely, positively, have to epitomize Super Cool - is a Rubicon. If you don’t mind the length of the Unlimited, then an Unlimited Rubicon is the Wrangler to buy. The thought of Dana 44 axles, a slip yoke eliminator, 4.11 gear ratio with a 4:1 transfer case gets me green with envy - now I know what good those things are...

Another note: While many Jeep owners maintain that Jeeps are the best vehicles ever to grace a parking lot and forest road alike, beware of this notion. Many of these good-spirited people also buy a new Jeep to rip out the drivetrain immediately after yanking the suspension (for something extraordinarily taller and stiffer) and adding on 33” x 12.5 tires. What I'm saying is that Jeeps often require significant modification.

For instance, I had to pull out the backseat and install a cargo rack (the Olympic Mountaineer rack) after my first extended trip through El Camino del Diablo. What a nightmare it was to keep everything - camping gear, ice chest, tools - in a great big pile that resembled a Jenga tower after the first 4 hours into the trip. Organization is priority for tight quarters like the back of a Jeep.

Jeep TJ with Old Man Emu SuspensionThen last Spring I installed the Old Man Emu suspension. This gave me another 2.5" in height and one hell of a nice ride. I'm glad I made that improvement. A lift on a Jeep makes severe changes to the driveline due to the short wheelbase of the vehicle. See this picture (click on it for a larger version). You can see these little silver spacers at the transfer case. This decreases the angle of my driveline while also negating some of the lift I aquired. I can fix this by one of two methods:

  1. Install a slip yoke eliminator (SYE)
  2. Install a 1" motor mount lift

There are downsides to both of these options. A SYE is expensive and involved. The motor mount lift, on the other hand, is not very expensive and it's not technically difficult to install. Yet it requires that the Jeep has a 1" body lift; also not expensive nor difficult. But I'm not sure I want my Jeep that high...mostly because I'd be tempted to put on 33"x10.5" tires.

I can hear you now:

Mark! What's the problem with bigger tires? They're cooler, right?

Well, these larger tires have a nasty effect on vehicle performance. "Uh, what's that gear ratio thing all about?" Yes, due to my stock axle gear ratios being 3.07 my highway performance will be diminished. Fifth gear will likely be useless. Getting a lower gear ratio is as easy as calling 4 Wheelers Supply, however such a job will cost some serious coin: close to $1200. Then some argue that a Dana 35 axle is not worth putting money into - perhaps I can replace it with a Dana 44 or have a Super 35 kit installed. Either way I am looking at spending thousands of dollars.

This modification stuff is a crescendoing problem. You often have to make changes to make changes to make changes. And the standard equipment on the Rubicon cuts down on the level of modification needed.

"I should have bought a Rubicon..."

Let me not understate this fact: A Jeep is friggin' cool. The doors come off, it looks cool, people dig it, etc, etc. It takes awhile, though, to find out what you want ("need" may be an inappropriate word for it) in a vehicle that can take you John Denver-way to Rocky Mountain highs. And if I were to buy a Jeep all over again, the Unlimited Rubicon would be the one.

However, I find that a Jeep is really a poor vehicle for extended trips - even if I had the additional space found in the Unlimted version. They are noisy and uncomfortable. You can put a yield on the noise with a hard top, but that eliminates the expedience of the first reason why a Jeep is cool.

So, in my ripe old age of 29 I've finally discovered what the heck I think I want in a vehicle: I want to do longer off-the-beaten-path explorations in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. Perhaps through Central America. While a Jeep is fun, cool, and quite "capable", it just won't cut it. So, I hunt for an appropriate expedition vehicle...The good news is, though, that I have the Jeep for driving technical trails, getting looks and making conversations.

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Old Man Emu suspension

A to Z rocker guards

Wilderness Bumper/rack

ARB Safari Snorkel

Olympic Mountaineer Rack

Yaesu FT-1500 2M radio

Navigation System: Garmin GPSMap 76S and Ram Mount

Olympic 4x4 Sports Roof Rack 901

A to Z Winch Mount Plate with Smittybilt XRC8 Winch

Mark D. Stephens: Adventurer, Writer, Photgrapher and Ambassador of the Sonoran Desert